Peter van der Graaf
Keen to have impact with your research but getting lost in all the knowledge exchange frameworks and models that are out there? Based on ten years’ experience working in translational public health for Fuse – The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, a UK Clinical Research Centre collaboration across five universities in North East England, we identified four practical steps to develop collaborative research and achieve meaningful change in policy and practice.
The challenges of using research to inform policy and practice are well documented, including in public health where the evidence base for interventions or programmes is patchy or contested. In response to these challenges, an abundance of models and frameworks have been developed in recent years that try to define the knowledge exchange process (how research evidence can be used, in combination with other types of knowledge, to change policy and practice). Practitioners and researchers venturing into the field of knowledge exchange are bewildered by the options available, which don’t go beyond the conceptual level and fail to describe in practical terms what research translation on the ground looks like.
In our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Mobilising knowledge in public health: reflections on ten years of collaborative working in Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health’, we provide practical guidance on ‘how to do’ knowledge exchange by reflecting on a model that has been developed at Fuse over the last ten years. Our general approach to achieving practice and policy change has been to use practitioner, policy and public engagement, through a fully developed communications function and knowledge brokerage service, to co-create relevant research, influence policy and practice debates and promote evidence uptake. This approach is broken down into the following four practical steps (see Figure 1):
- Step 1. Awareness raising: Making evidence users and sponsors (funders and support organisations) aware of our organisation, our research and engagement opportunities, including engaging our partners early in setting the agenda for future research.
- Step 2. Sharing knowledge: Creating opportunities for research users and producers to come together to explore opportunities for mutual learning and knowledge exchange through collaborative events, our responsive research service (AskFuse), and patient and public involvement.
- Step 3. Making evidence fit for purpose: Localising and tailoring evidence to context by offering a knowledge brokering service, embedded research, and increasing awareness of contextual pressures in health policy, practice and academia.
- Step 4. Supporting uptake and implementation of evidence: Developing long-term relationships with policy and practice partners to co-create evidence, build capacity for practice change, and change practice and policy.
In our approach, we recognise the importance of linking a range of knowledge exchange activities (resulting in a more structural approach) that engage policymakers and practitioners at different levels, intensities and points in their decision-making and development processes to change practice and policy.
For example, before meeting with policy and practice partners, we develop tailored research briefs that summarise research findings in an accessible and visual way, and that emphasise recommendations for policy and practice. Involving Centre researchers in developing these briefs improves their knowledge exchange skills, while providing them with ‘calling cards’ to initiate relationships with policymakers for further collaborative work. These conversations are often followed by requests via AskFuse on how knowledge users can apply the research evidence in a specific context, invitations to engage in collaborative research, or to support capacity building and implementation.
Knowledge exchange between academia and public health practitioners and policy makers can be complicated and at times bewildering. Breaking the process down into practical steps illustrates that knowledge exchange is empirical and relational.
Peter van der Graaf is a NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellow at Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK.
You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:
van der Graaf, P. Cheetham, M. Lake, A. Welford, M. Rushmer, R. Shucksmith, J. and Rhodes, A. (2020). Mobilising knowledge in public health: reflections on ten years of collaborative working in Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/204080519X15619879036817.
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